By Alex Taylor III
September 4, 2009

The minute I climbed into the driver’s seat, I knew: General Motors is getting its mojo back.

It may sound strange, but for a long time GM has felt lost in the product development wilderness. Some of its cars were simply duds. Others, even the ones deemed more successful, like the Chevy Malibu and Cadillac CTS, felt overly thought out and excessively mannered.

GM has been in the car business for 101 years. Why did it seem to have to relearn what it is doing, time and time again?

My Equinox experience was especially notable given my opposite reaction to a similar vehicle, the Cadillac SRX, a few weeks earlier. The SRX felt like it was developed by following the results of focus groups that weren’t coordinated with each other. The result was a mashup of features and functions that didn’t match up.

Not so in the Equinox. Everything is of a piece and seems to fit this midsize crossover. Its controls are all in the right place and function smartly the way they should, and none of the instruments or trim was fighting for my attention.

Likewise, the exterior design was well-resolved and identifiably Chevy, without slopping into the self-referential or overly mannered.

Unfortunately, some of the good feeling abated once I got underway. Although the Equinox came equipped with the optional 264-horsepower V6, it labored going up hills, refusing to shift down until the very last moment.

Would that be a deal-breaker? It depends on the terrain where I expected to drive.

The Equinox competes in a cutthroat segment against Honda’s CR-V and Toyota’s RAV-4. It is up to a foot longer than the competition and weighs several hundred pounds more but carries nine cubic feet less.

As the newest car in the segment, the Equinox is also the priciest. Loaded up with more than $5,000 worth of optional equipment, my test car carried a sticker price of $33,235.

It isn’t the best, and it isn’t cheap, but I consider Equinox competitive in this segment, and it has been a long time since I’ve been able to say that about a non-truck GM product.

The success of the Equinox bodes well for future Chevys due in the next year or so, like the Cruze, Spark, and Volt.

Getting its mojo back would be good for GM and good for the rest of the auto industry. GM should devoutly hope that Equinox is not just one of a kind.

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